by Thomas Nastasi
On July 13, 2013, I participated in the Spartan Race at Blue Mountain, PA. It was a four mile, 20+ obstacle course. I ran this same race in 2011 and totally underestimated it. That race was one of the worst experiences of my life, but like every bad experience, I learned from it. This time, with six Spartan Races completed, I was prepared. My cousin accompanied me and was very nervous due to my stories of how brutal this mountain was. Regardless, he was very eager to get started and conquer this course as well.
Spartan Race always puts on a wonderful event. Parking is never an issue and everything is well marked. We arrived at the mountain, about two hours from where we live, to 72 degree temperatures, fog, and mostly cloudy skies. It was perfect racing weather. The race announcer hyped us up and even introduced Chris Davis to the crowd. Chris is a Spartan Race success story. He’s lost hundreds of pounds over the past few years. Spartan Race helps train him and motivates him to keep the weight coming off. He’s a true motivator.
The race started and we were off. Usually at these mountain races the course sharply zigzags up to the top of the mountain. You want to try to stay within the top third of racers during the initial surge. I was doing very well and kept pushing along during the first ten minutes. We turned a bend and saw a huge incline to the top of the mountain. We all pushed hard until faintly in the distance we heard a noise. No, it wasn’t a bear. It was worse. It was a terrible echoing voice. It kept repeating words that made my—and about 50 other racers’—heart sink. He shouted, “Stop! You’re running the wrong way!”
We were all in utter disbelief. We had to backtrack all of those grueling steps we already took to a point of the mountain we passed ten minutes prior. It was heartbreaking, and I really have no clue how this happened. The course is usually very well marked, but I guess things happen. This was a mental and physical letdown. I already knew this would not be my best time for competitive reasons, and I tried to overcome that, but it was extremely hard. The next twenty minutes were spent on single person trails climbing up steep inclines one by one. The lead I had built to get in front of everyone just helped push me to the back of the pack. It was torture waiting for everyone to slowly ascend.
Finally, the course opened up and the obstacles started. The first was a seven foot wall. No problem here. The next was a bit of a surprise: The Sandbag Carry. Usually, this is much later in the race, but I am so glad it wasn’t. It was terrible. The 40lb bag had to be hauled up a steep loop of the mountain. It would have been hard to climb this mountain without the bag. It was so difficult; I just kept telling myself not to stop. I made up a lot of ground here as a lot of racers took breathers during the climb upwards. There were more extremely steep climbs until you reached the top of the mountain. This is where there were a series of obstacles all at a flat area of the peak. You had a giant tire flip: flip a huge truck tire four times. Next was the spear throw: missed that again, resulting in 30 burpees. Then the monkey bars: pretty standard this time. Finally, the Hercules Hoist: a large piece of concrete, on a pulley, needs to be pulled to the top of the contraption and gently placed back down. It really isn’t too hard.
After completing those obstacles I got some excellent news. The rest of the race was spent going downhill. There were no more inclines. This is not typical of a mountain race. Usually, the course is designed to make you go up and down the mountain at various points a few times. This was unusual, but I wasn’t complaining. I hammered down the mountain as fast as I safely could.
Next up was a giant slip and slide about 100 feet long into a manmade lake. This was extremely fun. It felt really good going into a gross lake of mud and sweaty athletes, but it cooled you down. There was a short swim and right back to the next obstacle: the barbed wire. This was possibly the muddiest barbed wire section I have ever seen. I started my strategy of rolling underneath the whole way and then saw a unique opportunity. I decided I had enough clearance on one side to bear crawl extremely low all the way to the end. I gathered up the energy and shot out like a cannonball; flew right through with no snags. Unfortunately, I didn’t notice this option until I was halfway done and completely filthy.
This is where I was a little annoyed. Right after the barbed wire, there was a series of obstacles. The first was a slanted wall towards you. I was able to do it, but many couldn’t because of how muddy your hands were. There was no opportunity to rinse your hands anywhere. The next wall was a normal seven foot wall, but this time I had a problem. My hand slipped and I had to quickly catch myself. My bicep clipped the top of the wall and immediately bruised. It hurt bad.
The sideways Traverse wall was next. This was nearly impossible. It’s a wall of lumber that has blocks screwed to it. You need to cross horizontally. Not only were your hands still incredibly muddy, but the blocks were muddy from all the people who touched them before you. Thirty burpees for me.
Finally we had the rope climb, a mini wall climb with a rope, another mini barbed wire crawl, the fire jump, and the gladiators. (My pictures seem digitally altered; I only remember getting hit in the chest.) The race was over and I had finished in 1 hour 28 minutes. I was very unhappy with my time, but had an excuse with the wrong way debacle. I can’t be mad at myself; I was physically prepared, and overall it was a fun race.
As I waited for my cousin to finish, I saw that the Armed Forces had a booth with the pull-up challenge. I decided to give it a go. I banged out 28 in a row and stopped. I asked the guy how Idid and he told me he didn’t know. I was confused. I’ve heard about this pull-up challenge and the winner gets a free race. He then tells me more great news on this day, “This is just a display. The pull-up challenge is over there.” Like a fool, I went to the real pull-up challenge and was all out of gas. Only could do 18 before punking out. Oh well. I know for next time.
This race taught me two things: the first being to always follow course markings and not the person in front of you. I never really thought about it being an issue because I’m never leading the pack. I was told a photographer pointed which way to run and was wrong. If I find that photographer….The second thing I learned is that I thrive on fear. I was afraid of this mountain due to past experiences. That fear led me to train harder and basically have no problems with this course. I also can now see how far I have come since 2011. I was unable to move for almost a week after this race two years ago. This time I went to a party afterwards and went to NYC the next day to walk around. I feel great and can’t wait for my next challenge: Superhero Scramble – Roxbury, NY.